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2004 Travelogue # 16
Route 66 and the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
Rockwell RV Park
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Places of Interest:
Chisholm Trail, Red Rock State Park, Gatewood Historic District,
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
6/29 It was nice to have access to Cable TV at the Rockwell RV Park in Oklahoma City. Every now and then, it's interesting to reconnect with our former life through CNBC, Fox News and the Weather Channel, as we did this morning. We were definitely off to a slow start but eventually we did head west, out Historic Route 66. We drove through El Reno, OK where one of the early western outpost forts, Fort Reno, was built. From there, we drove to the little town of Yukon, which was the home of Dale Robertson and Garth Brooks. Upon entering the town, we saw a sign that read, "Home of Garth Brooks". Perhaps, at one time there was a sign that read, ""Home of Dale Robertson" but time has marched on.
The city folks did a good job of dressing up this little town. The Chisholm Trail goes right up 9th St. from the south to north, crosses US 66 and ends in someone's pasture. They need a sign explaining that the trail continues on down the hill and across the North Canadian River.
Continuing westward to US 281, we then turned south toward Hinton, OK and Red Rock State Park. We drove about 10 miles past the Park, searching for Sid's Fried Onion Burgers but could never find it so, back to Hinton, where we settled for Zona's Family Restaurant and one of her burgers with great curly-cue fries. It was a good and necessary stop because the "bottom dropped out of the sky" it poured rain, big time.
After lunch, we toured Red Rock State Park. At the Park entrance, the road is steep and winding, with a 10% grade into the canyon. By looking at the pavement, I could tell many trailer hitches and rear ends had scraped rounding the steep curves. The campsites were old, small, and too close together. This park has been here a long time.
At one time, the canyon was a favorite outlaw hideout. We noticed the high red cliffs on both sides of the road with walls going straight up, which would have made an entry or exit very difficult. Today, there are no more outlaws, but we did see ugly marks in the sandstone walls where people continually mar the cliffs by climbing and rappelling. We also encountered run-offs of red dirt in the Park Road from the recent heavy rain and knew it could get messy during a long rainy period.
We retraced our way north, back through Hinton, on US 281 to Watonga, OK hoping to go to Roman Nose State Park but, as we started down into the Canadian River bottom, we noticed a sign that read "Caution Road Subject to Flooding in High Water". Well, that was enough for us, since the bar ditch was already full and flowing. We decided to reroute through Geary, OK but found the back end of the storm. There was too much rain; we'd have to see Roman Nose State Park at another time.
The rain, however, couldn't dilute Peggy's desire to shop; now we had time while waiting out the storm. She reminded me of the two major trading posts we'd passed at the intersection so, why not inspect the Cherokee Truck Stop and Trading Post? After our tour of the Cherokee place, we went across the highway to the second trading post, where Peggy bought a small woven Indian rug.
6/30 Today, following Historical Route 66, we explored the western part of Oklahoma City. We passed storefronts built in the 40's, 50's and 60's and one in particular, a diner, had an old black and white 1951 Ford sedan police car, along with a 1952, 4-door Chevrolet sitting out front. We continued up 23rd St to the Gatewood Historic District. This was an area of homes built in the late 20's and early 30's that were one-story brick bungalows with elevations containing points, arches and domes. The area, a registered Historical District, has come alive with a new pride of ownership. The homes have been updated and are well maintained.
Our destination was the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum (1700 NE 63rd St www.nationalcowboymuseum.org ), located on a high rolling hill known as Persimmon Hill. The Museum has gardens to wander and outstanding galleries and points of interest for spending hours of enjoyment, which we did. But, we made the mistake of arriving at 2 o'clock and, with the museum closing at 5 pm; we could not see it all today.
Upon entering the front doors, our eyes flowed down a long, marble, high ceiling corridor into a circular glassed-in area to a huge piece of sculpture by James Earle Fraser. This sculpture stands 18 feet tall and weighs approximately four tons and packs a powerful and dramatic message. "The End of the Trail" is carved from white marble and is an Indian brave sitting on his horse, slumped over in total defeat; the message is moving.
We spent time listening and watching a video interview with Wilson Hurley, the artist who created the five legendary landscapes of panoramic triptychs of the American West. Each scene is 18 feet by 46 feet and has the same continuous horizon line surrounding the walls of the Sam Noble Events Center. To stand in the center of the room and slowly turn 360 degrees was a panoramic joy.
Prosperity Junction is a separate area of the museum created to be an early 1900 Western cattle-town and the scene is set at dusk. While walking the streets, surround sound fills this bygone town, while life-size structures, including a saloon with player piano, bank, general store, delivery stable, and others bring the town to life. It reminded me of the Oil Museum in Kilgore, TX, which is built in the same realistic manner.
We did run out of time; couldn't get to the western wing of the Museum. This was a good way to spend a rainy afternoon. If the rain keeps up, we will stay another day and come back.
7/1 We did stay another day because of predicted rain and headed straight back to the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum to pick up where we left off yesterday.
Upon entering the Museum, we were greeted by a volunteer docent who asked to assist us with information. Charlene was most knowledgeable and she walked with us through several galleries, pointing out certain artists and commenting about their pieces. The Museum follows different themes such as art, cowboy life, Native Americans, rodeo, Western movies, and others.
We walked down the marble hall of the Exhibition Wing, with Charlene noting certain sculptures and paintings along the way. The artworks on the walls, as well as the sculptures on the floor pedestals, were made by artists selected to participate in the 2004 Prix de West Invitational Exhibition. Each of the 98 artists is considered to be a national premier Western artist and has been selected because they bring a unique set of artistic, cultural influence, and background to their paintings and sculptures.
Standing at the end of the Exhibition Wing is the "Canyon Princess", an 18-foot tall, 16,000-pound, white cougar, carved from a single block of flawless Colorado Yule marble, reigning over the corridor. The "Princess" was a gift to the Museum from a past Prix de West Award-winning artist, Gerald Balciar. I stood to the side as the white eyes followed and looked at me, simply an overwhelming statue.
Each year the artists are selected and can present several pieces of work, for display in the Exhibition Wing. Some have been invited year after year, some are first-timers, and some don't get a return invitation. Just to be invited to participate is a high honor and automatically increases the value of their work. From the 98 candidates, one piece of work is selected by the Museum as the Purchase Award Winner. The Museum purchases the artwork for its permanent collection called "The Prix de West Collection". After this selection is completed, the other pieces go on sale to the public but remain in the Wing for viewing until September of that calendar year.
The American West Gallery is the home of previous winners of the Prix de West as well as works by Russell and Remington. If you like western art, this is a wonderful gallery. There, is the reproduced home studio of past winner, Tom Lovell (1909-1997), as it overlooks the mesas of The West. It is complete with his collection of everyday working tools, paints, books, sketches, etc all very interesting and informative.
There is so much to see in this fantastic place. Just to sit and watch a 15-minute film narrated by Sam Elliot, on the beginning of the Western film industry up to the present time, in the Western Performers Gallery, was a moving picture of legends of the West. One legend that I wasn't aware of was "Bronco Billy", who was Gilbert M. Anderson, the first Western movie star in silent films. I always thought "Bronco Billy" was a character in a movie staring Clint Eastwood.
Well the bell rang at 5 o'clock and it was time to leave the "Cowboy". Once again we didn't finish so, we will come back again, someday. Now it was time to find an eating establishment. The first two choices didn't pass the "ant test" but the third one did, with a good collection of early diners...Chelinos, a Mexican restaurant near 23rd and Mc Arthur, served lots of chips, queso, and salsa on the front end, before you even order, then they end the meal with a hot sopapilla.
Bob & Peggy Woodall